1978 – The World of Music 35 Years Ago!

Rob O'Connor

I'm sure I've covered this year long ago when it was likely only 30 years ago. But it isn't like anyone wants to go looking for those lists. I know I don't. Not when I can fudge the whole concept into not albums, not #1 singles, but both! Yep, when it comes to innovation, I'm your guy!

Whether or not 1978 was actually a good year is purely subjective. Unlike, say 1966, which is generally considered to be about the best year ever. Or maybe that's 1969. If only someone as astute as Mark Twain were alive to give us his perspective.

25) Van Halen -- Van Halen: It was a little weird in the 1980s when this band called The Meatmen used to parody David Lee Roth and Van Halen. Why? Are you not aware that they're already doing it? Or you thought they really were like jogging alongside Satan and asking his career advice? That's so 1930s!

24) Brian Eno -- Music For Airports: Just as sometimes it's better not to say anything than to say what's on your mind, sometimes it's better not to play the notes or to employ a drummer just to keep the unions happy. Be free.

23) Wings -- "With a Little Luck": Once you got over the idea that McCartney has nothing to say but a graceful way of saying it, you can just enjoy what he is good at. Music for AM radios and airports!

22) The Jam -- All Mod Cons: That the American public turned their back on the British bands just when they were bringing a fresh new crop over was unforgivable in my view. It explains why we deserved Journey.

21) Cheap Trick -- Heaven Tonight: Then again, the American public wasn't even all that warm in greeting their American heartland counterparts. Really, too clever for us?

20) Siouxsie and the Banshees -- The Scream: OK, let's swing back to the UK and see what's not happening here in the US. These days, Hot Topic might be packed with all the proper accessories, but in 1978, this stuff was for weirdos, the kind that got beat up by the jocks and burnouts. These days these are the jocks and burnouts. So confusing.

19) Player -- "Baby Come Back": And here's an example of what WAS happening in the US in 1978. It's amazing democracy has lasted this long.

18) Public Image Limited -- First Issue: Johnny Rotten was the right guy for the Sex Pistols and for a few albums with PiL looked to be onto something if not completely new (hello Amon Duul II!) at least thoroughly engaging and demanding in all the right, ornery ways.

17) The Dictators -- Bloodbrothers: Not even a guest vocal from "media approved" rockstar Bruce Springsteen could get an actual rock band any real traction in the "rock" marketplace. No, it didn't need more piano -- and organ! Jeez.

16) Chic -- "Le Freak": I never figured this would be wedding music for eternity, but whether it lives on because it's real or because it's now ironic, it still shows up. I'm sure Chic were aiming higher and in many ways did actually land higher than they imagined. Just not the higher they envisioned.

15) Billy Joel -- 52nd Street: I've hated on Billy for years, but sometimes I think he had his moments and by that I mean three or four songs per LP for a few years. You get older and it's OK to admire craft. Besides, he knew his people.

14) Aerosmith -- Live Bootleg: Arguably, the greatest live album ever. It’s certainly one of the sloppiest. Its greatness can be confirmed by the simple fact that I played it every day for a year when I was ten. Music is subjective, after all.

13) Jim Morrison -- An American Prayer: Poetry is what it is. But I’d still feel a little better if people who raved about Morrison’s poetry had at least one other poet on their ‘Essentials’ list that didn’t include a Morrison-selected word dude. Yeats? Auden? Chuck Berry?

12) Grease Movie Soundtrack: Maybe it really works as camp, but it’s still the kind of movie that makes me wish someone would tell the truth about the past. The 1950s deserve better than Fonzie and his ilk.

11) X-Ray Spex -- Germ Free Adolescents: The idea that Poly Styrene (Marianne Joan Elliot-Said) has come and gone reminds me just how much our own lives are like a one-hit wonder. Enjoy the good parts and what a drag it is getting old.

10) Barbra Streisand & Neil Diamond -- "You Don't Bring Me Flowers": Kitsch, by definition, is more palatable as something to look back at than something to deal with in the present. It’s easier to admit to having had poor taste than it is to admit you still have it.

9) Yvonne Elliman -- "If I Can't Have You": The Bee Gees wrote “How Deep Is Your Love” for her, but BGee manager Robert Stigwood wanted the band to keep it. The band also used “If I Can’t Have You” as a b-side to “Stayin’ Alive.” Because they couldn’t have ALL the hits that year.

8) The Cars -- The Cars: Let ME brush that rock 'n' roll hair! The album was proof that with great little songs even Roy Thomas Baker couldn’t sap the life out of you. Who would expect the "Queen-like" harmonies to work? An album full of great surprises.

7) Pere Ubu -- The Modern Dance, Dub Housing: They'd stockpiled enough good stuff to release two albums in the same year that were different from one another. They call it growth, but it's more like growing up in public because once they got to a certain point, they never growed again.

6) The Rolling Stones -- Some Girls: The Stones didn't need this album, but it's great that they wanted it. Often enough, it's the yardstick for "best album since…" though a few crazies try to rank schlock like Bridges to Babylon above it with their 'best since Exile reviews." They never needed to do "punk rock" but it's cool to hear their take on it. And disco, too. Their problem is there hasn't been a fashionable style since that makes sense for them to appropriate. Hip-hop Stones? Dub-step? Electro-pop?

5) Kiss Solo Albums: Another fine idea. They just released a 2-LP "Greatest Hits" of their first six records (meaning 1/3 of their career is "greatest hits") called Double Platinum, so why not send each of them into the studio with real pros and see what happens. The drummer thought he could do it again.

4) Village People -- Macho Man: In the end people remember successful kitsch better than they remember the "good stuff" anyway. So, why not, right? I'll be the indian. You can be the UPS driver.

3) Various Artists -- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Movie Soundtrack: I know what would be hot. Take the hottest stars of the day -- the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton! -- and stick them in a musical featuring Beatles songs. We'll get Aerosmith to play the bad guys! It can't miss!

2) Black Flag -- Nervous Breakdown EP: And the times they are a-changin'. LOUDER, so RUBBLE can hear you!

1) The Bee Gees: They were everywhere. If it wasn't their song you were hearing, it was a song they wrote or it was their other brother Andy. And still no one believed you when you told them they made non-disco records once upon a time. Here, sleep on my copy of Odessa if you don't believe me.